Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana in states across the country.

Posted: Jan 5, 2018 10:52 AM
Updated: Jan 5, 2018 10:52 AM

Several states that allow marijuana use reacted with frustration to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' rescinding of Obama-era guidelines that established a hands-off approach to their marijuana-friendly laws.

While a number of states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, it is still illegal under federal law. Among the Justice Department memos, the "Cole memo" in 2013 released a directive to federal prosecutors, adopting the non-interference policy.

Federal prosecutors nationwide now will decide how to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where its use is legal.

Here is how some state officials reacted:

California

"Today, Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will" of voters, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

This week, California became the eighth state -- along with the District of Columbia -- to allow recreational sales of marijuana after voters approved the measure in 2016. Another 22 states allow only medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.

Newsom said Sessions' move "flies in the face of overwhelming public opinion of a vast majority of Americans, who support marijuana legalization."

"I call on our federal leaders to move quickly to protect states' rights from the harmful effects of this ideological temper tantrum by Jeff Sessions," said Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco.

Colorado

Colorado officials were surprised by the announcement, state Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said.

"I will say that there was no warning about this guidance. We had no idea it was coming, and like you, we woke up this morning to the news that there was new direction from Attorney General Sessions," Coffman said.

"It is unfortunate that the people who are on the ground working with marijuana enforcement issues every day ... were not consulted before this guidance was issued, because I think we definitely could have shed some light on that," Coffman said.

She said there is a lot state officials still don't know the Justice Department's enforcement priorities and how it plans to implement the new memo.

But Coffman said she doesn't foresee a major shift in Colorado in the current marijuana enforcement and regulation.

"We will continue as a state to exert our right as a sovereign state to control what happens in our borders with regard to marijuana regulation and enforcement," she said.

In 2012, voters in Colorado passed a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Colorado's US Attorney Bob Troyer said Sessions "directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions."

Troyer said his office "has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions."

Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown said some 19,000 jobs had been created by the marijuana market.

"Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state's economy," she said.

Oregon voted in 2014 to legalize personal possession, manufacture and sale of marijuana for people 21 years of age and older.

Brown said "the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians."

Brown said her staff and state agencies "will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."

Oregon's US Attorney Billy J. Williams said his office will work with state and local officials on several areas, including "stemming the overproduction of marijuana ... dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities."

Washington state

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that he was "especially frustrated" by reports the "Cole memo" would be rescinded. Inslee called it "the wrong direction for our state."

"It is also disrespects Washington voters who have chosen a different path for our state," he said.

Washington voters passed a law in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21. The first dispensaries started opening in 2014.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was "disappointed and troubled" by the news.

"Over the past year, Sessions has demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about our state's marijuana laws," Ferguson said.

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